A lovely blue and yellow decanter (â?¬30) from Italy
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I’ve heard Select Bookshop described as a Dickensian sort of place. Perhaps it’s indicative of my stunted reading habits that the adjective which more immediately springs to my mind is Blytonesque. But then there is something slightly fantastical about its shadowy interiors, whose deepest secrets are presumably known only to the kindly old man behind the counter, with the twinkle in his eye. The man is K.K.S. Murthy, inheritor of the Select legacy from his father and founder K.B.K. Rao, from whose faded black and white photos it is apparent that the twinkle in the eye must run in the family. So also must the habit of abandoning flourishing careers to take to bookselling; Rao was a successful lawyer before he founded Select. In turn, Murthy gave up a career as an aeronautical engineer to take over the business and most recently, Murthy’s son Sanjay joined him, leaving behind his days as an accountant.
Even while he worked his technocrat job, Murthy spent most of his spare time book-hunting wherever his work took him. From Chennai’s Moore Market to New York to the street bookshops in France on the banks of the river Seine, his is a life inextricably linked with the books. Every enduring memory of his has something to do with buying books, selling books, or figuring out how to transport sacks full of books across the world. There was one story he told me that wasn’t about books, when he found himself in France searching for a particular brand of perfume called Genet Fleuri. He managed to locate the perfumer, but couldn’t buy the fragrance due to a complicated tangle of licensing agreements. As he narrated it to me I found myself surprised that finding a perfume would be of such interest to a man whose overriding concern in life was the pursuit of books. But as it turned out it was a story about books after all. Back in India, K.B.K. Rao had read about Genet Fleuri in Katherine Mansfield’s journals and asked his son to try and find it when he was in France. The perfumer’s heart went out to Murthy when he learnt how and why he had come looking for the perfume. He couldn’t sell him any but he gifted him an entire carton of bathing soaps made from the same fragrance. The elder bookseller was thrilled when his son gave him the soaps and he stowed them away, bathing with them for months after and refusing to let anyone else touch them.
Select’s clientele, like its collection, is eclectic. You’re most likely to bump into students, academics and artists within its small confines. A few are casual browsers; most are raving bibliophiles seeking a fix. Murthy, an unlikely tambourine man, is only too happy to oblige them, suggesting titles, giving advice on where to look, or just letting them browse undisturbed.
From its early makeshift location in a garage on Museum Road to its still humble but more permanent location in an alley off Brigade Road, Select Bookshop has acquired a quiet fame for its exquisite collection of secondhand, rare and antiquarian books. Four years ago the shop was expanded to include three rooms on the first floor, but the basic working arrangement remains the same. Books are stacked in piles all over the floor, on shelves, under them and behind them. If you’re looking for something in particular ask Murthy, or else you’re likely to get distracted by shelves full of mythical monsters, unfaithful husbands and gardening advice.
There is one room upstairs which is kept locked. This is where the rare and antique books are kept, away from the probing, sweaty fingers of the casual browser. There is a particular quietness in this room, which almost seems like a reverential hush intended for the books themselves. The books here are brittle with age, and their pages threaten to snap softly if you’re not gentle with them. Many of them are obscure; looking through, I found among other volumes a detailed exposition on the cutlery trade, and a defence of the methods of water diviners. As I was about to give up hope of finding something I would be able to appreciate, I opened a black bound book and felt that unmistakable quickening of the pulse when I realised that it was a first edition of Dom Moraes’ autobiographical book My Son’s Father.
Unfortunately my attention was soon diverted by another book on the remote island of Tristan da Cunha, and when I turned back I had forgotten where I placed my book. I might have been inconsolable had Murthy not promised that he’d find it and keep it for me.
Apart from his uncanny knack for sourcing rare secondhand books from across the country, it is Murthy’s personal interest in his customers’ requirements that sets Select apart from other secondhand bookshops. He spends hours poring over his shelves to find specific books that have been requested. It’s customer service of an impeccably high order.
In the age of internet research, Select is a comforting place to be. There is something reassuring about the thought that not all the information in the world is available online, and that there are still treasures to be found beyond the reach of Google’s tentacles. If you don’t need your results in 0.34 seconds, it might just be more interesting to seek Murthy out.
Select Bookshop (080-25580770) is located at 71 Brigade Road (Cross), Bengaluru. It's open 11.30am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday and upto 5.30pm on Sundays.
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